I’m fascinated by history, but I’m also equally frustrated at how some definitions or concepts are portrayed in popular culture. I often feel the need to educate people on it, however that is not the case right now. I just want to have a look at the crusades of the 11th, 12th and 13th century.
A Crusade is not limited to a certain area. The reason I say this, is because a lot of the time when people say crusade, they mean the crusades in the Holy Land. But they could be other wars in that period too. Roughly said, they are religious wars sanctioned by the Latin church in the medieval period of history.
Pope Urbanus’ speech
The crusades to the holy land were initiated and sanctioned by the Latin church, more specific the Pope. The Pope in 1095 was Urban II and he spoke the following words regarding the holy land during the Council of Clermont:
“I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds to publish this everywhere and to perse all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it is meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it”
Now the speech Urbanus gave had a great effect: Christians all over Europe answered the call to save their fellow believers in Jerusalem against the so-called evil of the Saracens. The holy city should be Christian again once more and the enthusiasm for this quest was enormous. Not in the last place because people who travelled there to fight or got killed in the process, were free from all sins and could go to heaven directly. According to the Pope that is.
But that wasn’t the only thing the Pope anticipated. During the 11th century, many European houses were at war with each other. The Pope allegedly hated to see Christians fightings amongst each other and needed a common cause to stop the fighting and unite the houses against a common enemy. The Crusades were an ideal situation for the Papacy.
There have been a few Crusades to the holy land in Jeruzalem, but in reality only one crusade was successful from a Christian point of view. That was the first one from 1095 to 1099. Western Christianity (so without Greek and Russian orthodox churches) initiated the crusades against the Muslims in the Holy Land in order to regain possession of Jerusalem. This crusade was preceded by the unofficial People’s Crusade, wherein an army of mostly peasants took up arms against the muslims. They lost, but this was the beginning of the first crusade as well. In that first official crusade, the Christian army consisted of the following countries or kingdoms: Holy Roman Empire, France, England, Apulia and the Byzantine Empire. This army took upon arms against the Fatimid Caliphate and the Seljuk Empire.
In winning the first crusade, the Christian established some new crusader states such as Edesse, Antioch, Jerusalem and Tripoli. These lay in Palestina and Syria. The first crusade is very well known, because it’s the first and it’s the only one that the Christians have won.
The Crusades are more than just a way of looking at a certain type of war from the Christian side. In the third crusade, the Christians got to meet An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub or as he’s also know Saladin. Saladin is a very interesting historical person, but in this post I want to focus on why’s he known in Europe and that’s the consequence of the third crusade embarked on Jerusalem. This crusade followed on the sacking of Jerusalem by Saladin and because of it, Richard Lionheart went to the holy land. This battle between two religious background was set against the personal battle between two of the greatest names in history. In the end Saladin won this crusade and Jerusalem maintained in the hands of the muslims.
The crusades are so much more than the religious wars in Palestina, but the most important thing that I wanted to stress, is the fact that the crusades were a political tool from the Pope to create order out of chaos in a divided Europe. I think it’s also worthy to note that although we have given the crusades a big part of our European history, the majority of the crusades were lost.